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Leadership Conference inspires current and future industry leaders

By Connie Lannan and Brock Huffstutler

January 10, 2023

Leadership Conference attendees from Region Four

Leadership Conference attendees from Region Four

The American Rental Association’s (ARA) Leadership Conference, hosted by the ARA Board of Directors, took place Nov. 17-19 at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel in Rosemont, Ill. The annual invite-only conference delivered educational and networking opportunities tailored to equip attendees as industry leaders.

Nearly 75 attendees representing 38 states and three Canadian provinces traveled to the conference; many currently serve on their ARA state chapter board of directors. Also present were current and incoming members of the ARA Board of Directors who lent their insights on association leadership.

The event opened Thursday, Nov. 17, with the welcoming presentation “It’s Hard to Lead the Change if You Look Funny on a Horse!” by Bruce Christopher. Christopher, a licensed psychologist who has spoken on some of the largest stages in the world, kicked off the conference with a message on the art of leadership and how to get on the horse, lead the charge and bring others along with you.

“So much of his presentation was about your attitude and your mind. The success in your life is based on how you perceive your own life,” says first-time Leadership Conference attendee Jennifer Rodriguez, CERP, general manager, Marianne’s Rentals, Oklahoma City, who serves as ARA of Oklahoma secretary. “Being aware of your own thoughts and what you allow inside your brain shapes your future and defines your reality. He talked about the rules of ABC — A is attitude when an event happens to you, B is how you talk about the event, C is your emotional response to your self-talk — what you’re telling yourself in your mind. That was really good.”

For Jonathan Baugh, owner, Lawn and Power, Star City, Ark., who serves as an ARA of Arkansas board member, the presentation helped him realize that “I need to change the way I look at myself — how my attitude can affect a lot of other things. We all deal with 100 problems a day, but how we handle those can affect what kind of day we have. That was one of the biggest takeaways,” he says.

Thursday evening also included recognition of the 2021 ARA Leadership Impact Award recipients. Matt Cosby of Peerless Events and Tents, Austin, Texas, who serves on the Texas Rental Association board of directors, received the award for his service in ARA Region Four.

Bryce Puckett and Matt Cosby

Bryce Puckett, left, and Matt Cosby

Cosby, a first-time conference attendee, was “very surprised” when his name was announced. “I am very appreciative of the recognition. I didn’t expect this. It was like this is great, but it is just our job — what we do as board members. We have to think outside of the box and do things differently and be innovative,” he says.

Receiving this award “means that I need to keep pushing forward and being a leader within our region as well as help mentor people who are new. It reassures what I am doing and my purpose. When you serve on a board, your purpose is to serve other people and serve the industry. It re-motivates me to continue doing that,” he says.

The Leadership Conference continued Friday with its central theme, “Shift Happens,” a series of sessions presented by guest speaker Lee Ann Piano, a John Maxwell-certified speaker, trainer, coach and empowerment expert.

Throughout the day, Piano shared insight and guidance that can help conference attendees stay ahead of the curve and become nimble and adaptable leaders in today’s rapidly changing world. Her sessions were split into three distinct segments: “Leadershift,” focusing on adaptability; “The Focus Shift,” highlighting how to help others shine; and “The Personal Growth Shift,” centered on becoming growth-oriented.

Rodriguez says she took away so many insights from Piano’s presentation. “She talked about being a better listener. I thought I was a good listener, but I learned a lot about how to be even better. She also discussed the value of prioritizing and focusing your goals at the beginning of the day, coaching and mentoring people, implementing team builders vs. team busters, how to hire people and multiple advantage perspective — how you can have multiple advantages and see a situation from different perspectives. It was all about mindset and performance, which was great,” she says.

The tips for recruiting and retaining people resonated with Baugh. “Our workforce is becoming more diversified,” he says. “If you keep doing what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten. As the world changes, we have to change how we recruit and retain the talent. I am from a small town in south Arkansas. You get in your own little bubble. Getting out of that and realizing what the bigger situation is across the whole platform lets you know what is going on. Whenever it comes to recruiting board members or employees for the dealership, we have to start recruiting from different areas and places from what we have done in years past. We need to catch up or get left behind.”

Cosby also found that helpful, especially Piano’s example of clear communication, using the acronym VETO — Vision, Example, Teach and Ownership. “It correlated with our whole values, purpose, vision and mission at Peerless Tents and Events. At Peerless, one of our core values is Own it: ‘We value the individuals who love their job and work the hardest to make Peerless stand above the competition. We are responsible for empowering and supporting each other. We own our mistakes and hold one another accountable rather than pointing fingers.’ It felt good to know that we are, according to Lee Ann, going in the right direction.”

Updates on the latest ARA programs and initiatives also were provided by ARA staff members following Piano’s sessions on Friday.

“This was one of my favorite parts to learn what ARA can do for us,” Cosby says. “It has prompted me to see how I can be part of the growth and change and how can I be assisting that change. It makes me want to be more involved.”

Rodriguez agrees. “When you hear from Tony [Conant, ARA CEO] and someone from every department about what they are doing, it was very impactful. I was blown away to hear all that ARA does. It helped me understand what the national objectives are and how they impact us,” she says.

On Friday evening, all were invited to enjoy the comedic talents of performers from Second City, Chicago’s renowned troupe of improv, stand-up and sketch comedians.

Group of attendees from Region Four and Region FiveThe conference concluded Saturday, Nov. 19, with a final leadership session, “The Mind Shift,” from Ashley Cuttino of Ogletree Deakins — a legal firm with a human resources focus that partners with ARA on the association’s HR Assistance Program. Cuttino discussed how our internalization of past experiences helps to form one’s opinions, attitudes and assumptions on any given topic. Those opinions impact the decisions people make on a daily basis, both personally and professionally. A leader who acknowledges and assesses their assumptions is capable of leading their business into new markets.

All say the conference was extremely valuable. “I am glad I went,” Baugh says. “From spending time with the speakers and gaining wisdom from them, it was also nice to hang out with peers who are going through similar situations and talk about how they are handling that. The networking was just as valuable as the information I received from the speakers. I left with good tips. Now it is up to me to implement and follow through with those.”

Rodriguez agrees. “When you sit next to people who do the same thing that you do, you pick up these gems. It completely changes what you are thinking about and opens up your eyes. It takes you outside your own world and allows you to get a bird’s-eye view of the entire industry. That experience in itself changes you. Having that exposure and building your community is so important to what we do in our everyday lives. I left feeling very supported and came back rejuvenated and excited for my board service and my business,” she says.

ARA’s Leadership Conference offers time for Ditch Witch’s Scott Pevey to reflect on his volunteer board service

Scott Pevey

Scott Pevey

Volunteering for the American Rental Association (ARA) has been part of Scott Pevey’s DNA for the past 10 years. This senior manager, marketing, at Ditch Witch in Perry, Okla., has served on the Exhibitor Advisory Council, the ARA Foundation Board of Trustees and most recently on the ARA Board of Directors as associate member director. Pevey’s board service will conclude at the end of The ARA Show™ in February. While attending ARA’s Leadership Conference this past November, he had time to reflect on what volunteering has meant to him.

Pevey’s volunteer service stems from two factors.

The first is his respect and understanding of his company’s history with the industry and the association.

“Our company and our brand were built on the rental market, and we have participated in the last 63 ARA shows,” he says. “There have been a lot of people before me who have supported the industry and ARA in particular. I felt I needed to do my part to support such an important industry. I have tried to do that with my volunteer efforts.”

The second is the pure joy Pevey receives from working with the people he volunteers with. “The people are a huge reason I have volunteered. Everyone I have ever met are top-notch and really cut from the same cloth as all of us at Ditch Witch. Our values, our approach and personalities are very similar. I really like everyone. It is a joy to interact with them. I have grown very close to many people at ARA,” he says.

That is why he has enjoyed going to the Leadership Conference so much. “This was my third Leadership Conference. The national board hosts this conference. I thought the content and presentations at the November conference were really good. Each speaker had a unique message and gave attendees something they could take back and use in their daily life and work, which is always valuable,” he says.

Besides all the education that goes on, Pevey says, “The most compelling observation that I witness at these events is the relationship-building that goes on with attendees. Many of them are the next generation of running the rental market. They are building such a strong community. The Leadership Conference is kind of a salute to the future leaders of the association and the industry. That is really powerful to see that and watch that in action as these people will keep the industry strong and vibrant for the future.”

As a proud resident of Oklahoma, which is part of ARA’s Region Four, Pevey enjoyed interacting with many rental operators he has seen at state chapter meetings. “I know a lot of the people from Region Four. At the conference, I was able to meet others who I didn’t previously know. They even invited me to be part of the Region Four group photo, which was great,” he says.

Another ARA member also approached Pevey to see whether he and other members of his ARA Peer Advisory Group could spend a few days at the Ditch Witch headquarters to meet, tour the factory, talk with Ditch Witch staff, demo equipment, etc.

“This will be great for them to come and have our product managers hear firsthand what they need. From the associate member side, this will be invaluable. We will have 10 stores in one place and hear the voice of the customer. That is the power of networking with everyone there,” Pevey says.

Even though he will be wrapping up his latest board service, Pevey isn’t done volunteering. “My experience working with ARA has been fantastic. That is why I keep wanting to stay plugged in,” he says, noting that if there is a way for him to continue volunteering for ARA, he will definitely sign up for the task.